Music review: Mushroom 50 Live concert, Rod Laver Arena

A star-studded line-up celebrating Australia’s best music from the past 50 years. 
Mushroom 50. Image is of a rocker belting out a song with a band behind him.

Rod Laver Arena came alive on 26 November, for the Mushroom 50 Live concert, an electrifying celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Mushroom Group, founded by the late Michael Gudinski. 

Over 34 artists united to perform 50 songs, spanning the last five decades, in commemoration of the iconic music promoter who launched the careers of many household names.

For a concert that started at 5.30pm on a Sunday, you wouldn’t usually expect big names right from the get-go, but this was a Mushroom event after all and talent isn’t hard to find. Cue the legendary Jimmy Barnes who kicked off the evening with his raw, hard rock vocals, setting an electrifying tone for what was to come. ‘Working Class Man’ was just the prelude to an evening packed with a powerhouse line-up that included Missy Higgins, Birds of Tokyo, Kate Ceberano, Paul Kelly, Bliss n Eso, The Teskey Brothers and more.

The first half of the show saw a blend of iconic Aussie anthems – Goanna’s ‘Solid Rock’ to Vika & Linda’s take on the Skyhooks’ ‘Living in the 70s’ – and alternative rock bands like The Rubens and The Temper Trap performing their own hits as well as covering more Aussie classics. 

Paul Kelly was a standout (no surprises there) captivating the audience as he danced across the stage while performing ‘Before Too Long’ and a Sunnyboys tribute with original band member Jeremy Oxley on guitar. Following this, rapper Briggs welcomed Aboriginal rock group Yothu Yindi onto the stage to sing ‘Djapana (Sunset Dreaming)’ and the 1991 protest song ‘Treaty’. The fusion of their collective vocals, the resonance of traditional instruments and the mesmerising Yolŋu dance were infectious. Soul and passion spread to the audience, who rose to their feet to dance along.

Throughout the show, there was a profound sense of respect and appreciation for First Nations artists. Gudinski, a staunch supporter of Indigenous musicians, was prominent in championing such talent at a time when very few labels were signing them. Touching tributes to the revered Uncle Archie Roach graced the screens, setting the stage for an unforgettable performance by ARIA award-winner Dan Sultan who sang Roach’s ‘Took the Children Away’. Sultan’s rendition, flawlessly executed, featured emotional vocals accompanied by a grand piano, a full band and a string quartet. It was a moving homage to one of Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter virtuosos.

The Mushroom team executed the four-and-a-half-hour music marathon seamlessly with short set-ups between performances to ensure no time was wasted. Local personalities introduced musicians from the side of the stage so as not to distract the live audience. And thanks to considerate planning, some performances were strategically placed on a smaller stage at the opposite end of the arena, creating intimate moments for the slower ballads.   

Mushroom 50 was spectacular as a live performance, but the televised segments featuring Alt-J and Sam Smith projected onto the big screens struggled to catch the audience’s attention. Even Ed Sheeran’s virtual performance (which was broadcast to television, but sadly not in the arena) couldn’t cure their disinterest as he sang ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ with Hunters and Collectors frontman Mark Seymour. 

The crowd’s reaction throughout the night spoke volumes about how deeply Mushroom Records had impacted their lives. Strangers united by swaying to Paul Kelly and belting out Missy Higgins’ ‘Scar’. A wave of camaraderie and connection – we may not know each other, but we know these lyrics and this beat. 

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Christine Anu and daughter Zipporah’s heartfelt performance was another reminder of how music acts as the thread that weaves stories across generations. Where else will you find seasoned artists sharing the stage with budding musicians? As Sam Margin, lead singer of The Rubens remarked, ‘I never thought Jimmy Barnes would be warming up for us.’ That’s the essence of Mushroom Records’ legacy – a convergence of different generations in Aussie music laying the foundation for newcomers to flourish and take the baton. Only more great hits to come. 

Mushroom 50 Live concert at Rod Laver Arena played for one night only on 26 November 2023. 
The event is part of Always Live, which is running until 10 December 2023. 

Caitlin is a Melbourne-based writer whose work has been published in Australia’s Style Magazine, ArtsHub, Lip Mag, Intrepid Times, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine, among others.